“There is no such thing as luck. Only chance. And nothing can be left to chance.”Werner Waltz
Werner saw them from where he lay. He was flat against the gravel overpass that stretched above an area enclosed by walls of rock. The men trudged on below him as rain pelted down into their cloaks embroidered with Aquarian violet. Below their stomping feet, the ground had become sludge.
There were precisely thirty-two of them altogether. Their numbers were halved in the earlier skirmish. It was evident that the battle had worn them out considerably. Despite their stiff fatigue, they still inched slowly toward the enclosure. Too tired to even cast a glance up at the shrubbery that shrouded the overpass. Too exhausted to even suspect.
There had been less than a one-percent chance that the Aquarians would not have rested at this location. A chance that Werner had been considering when devising this plan. It was foolish not to consider these chances. Even the smallest percentages counted. No matter how small the chances, an error was an error. This was why he sent another group of men down the path earlier. They were waiting in the bushes that dotted the pathway farther down.
The Aquarians began to set up camp in the enclosure. Makeshift tents were gradually propped up beside the walls, and a handful of the Aquarians stole away into the cover the tents provided.
One of the Aquarians below Werner settled down beside a slab of rock and pulled down the hood of his cloak.
Werner peered at the man through the scope of his conducting rifle. The Aquarian’s cheeks were round, his fingers thin and shaking. His dark blonde hair clung to his face as rain trickled down his chin. He was more of a boy than a man, Werner realized, but that didn’t matter because wrapped loosely around the boy’s arm was a sash emblazoned with a red cross, and gracing the shoulder pads of his uniform were a pair of golden insignias in the shape of two waves stacked on top of one another. A medical officer.
Beside him, Werner felt one of his men tense.
“Do not hesitate,” he stated under his breath. “Hit your mark.”
The pitter-patter of the rain muffled his words. But there were no words that truly needed to be exchanged. His men already knew their purpose. Their duty. To hesitate now would be a foolish misstep and label one as a coward. Appearances were everything.
Lining up the mouth of his conducting rifle with the young medical officer’s head, Werner looked at the boy one last time through his scope and pulled the trigger.
A brilliant thin ray of indigo light cracked through the rainy, gray haze and pierced the center of the boy’s head straight on. The force of the vitae bolt sent the boy flying backward to the ground. The mud ate up the red that pooled out from the gaping hole in his skull.
The Aquarians who were setting up tents nearby let out shouts of alarm. Some scrambled for cover, others ran to their fallen comrade’s side, while a majority grabbed the conductors they had cast aside earlier.
But it was too late.
Down came a ray shower of lights. Navy blue. Sky blue. Blue violet. A blinding storm of color bulleted the clearing and tore up rock and body without bias. In the calculated chaos, the sound of rain was swallowed up by cries and explosions.
Using his scope, Werner followed an Aquarian scrambling toward a stray conductor buried beneath debris. This one was even younger than the first. Bright blue eyes that almost glowed in the dark.
Aim. Shoot. Fire.
Another one was ducking for cover behind a large stone slab.
Aim. Shoot. Fire.
Thirty-two men halved to sixteen. Sixteen became eight. Then four. Then two. Zero.
Werner held up a fist.
The bombardment of light stopped. Smoke and steam rose up from the clearing as an unnatural silence fell upon them. The tapping of the rain and the heavy panting of the men lined up beside him were the only sounds that reached Werner’s ears.
Peering into his scope once more, he surveyed the ground below. The smoke was too heavy to see through. They would have to wait. They couldn’t risk an Aquarian escaping. If they did, all their planning would have been for nothing. Perfectionism at this point was key. Error, unacceptable.
The crunch of gravel beside him drew his attention away from the smoke. When Werner turned his eyes from the scope and to his left, he found that one of his men was standing, shaking, and hugging his conducting rifle tightly to his chest. He was exposed.
The soldier shook his head and took a step backward.
“I said get down,” Werner ordered louder.
Once again, the soldier shook his head. Soldier? No, Werner realized, this was no soldier. No soldier would disobey orders like this. This was just a man. No, a boy.
“You didn’t use your conductor.” Werner realized, regarding the boy’s conductor with contempt. It did not give off steam from the cold like Werner’s own.
“I―” Another step backward.
Werner frowned and reached for the boy’s arm. “I said get―”
Werner should’ve known what would happen next, but it still alarmed him when he saw a hurtling bolt of violet light burst out from the haze of smoke. There had only been less than a one percent chance that one of the Aquarians could’ve survived. But a chance was still a chance. An error was still an error. And errors were fatal.
The ray of light tore through Werner’s shoulder and sent him flying backward.
The boy was at his side now, as were the rest of the men. The boy was crying. Werner could see the tears intermingling with the rain.
“Mark the clearing,” he stated calmly, gripping his shoulder. It was numb ― from the cold or the pain, he didn’t know. It didn’t matter.
“I said mark the clearing, private!”
He didn’t have the energy to say much else and fell back. The cold rain seeped through the fabric of his uniform, deep into his skin, and reached his core, where it slowly stole away his movement and sight.
Briefly, he wondered how he appeared to his men as he lay bleeding out like this. And, what was this, exactly?
Conductor: an individual who uses a conductor—oftentimes, a weaponized conductor. They have obtained State Conducting Licenses via the State Conductor’s Exam. They fall into one of the following categories according to their conducting-type: Elementalist, Conjuror, Manipulator, Transmutationist, Projector. Those who utilize vitae in a fashion that does not fall into any of these categories are called Specialists. Additionally, they tend to be more adept at utilizing vitae either intraneously (vitae within themselves) or extraneously (vitae that is of the outside world). Those who conduct vitae intraneously tend to exhaust themselves more easily than those who use it extraneously.Conducting 101 by L.B. Ran